NOTHING SPECIAL

1. It’s Thursday, August 11, 2016. It’s 89 days until the election.

2. I’m not feeling guilty about watching so much of the Olympics because 10 days from now they’ll be over.

All right, a little guilty.

3. She must be soul crushing to other nations. So I’m glad Katie Ledecky is on our side. Imagine if she were a force for evil. Or Russia.

4. When the U.S. men’s basketball team started using NBA pros in 1992, creating the Dream Team, some complained that it was like using a nuclear weapon on the rest of the sport.

But just 12 years later in Athens, the U.S. men couldn’t even make it to the finals, settling for the bronze.

The team hasn’t lost since then, and maybe with Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and other all-stars, it shouldn’t. But yesterday, the men got a severe test from the Australians, holding them off in the final minutes. The 10-point win belied how close the U.S. came to losing.

And that’s great.

I’ve always believed the point of the Dream Team wasn’t to exercise American dominance. It was to make the rest of the world aspire to play better. Before the Olympics let NBA pros in, the U.S. was sending teams of college players, and they were mostly good enough.

But starting with Jordan, Bird and Magic Johnson and now to the current incarnation, the rest of the world knows it needs to play its best to compete. Some countries can’t. But Australia proved yesterday that it could stay with the Americans, putting out a bunch of current and former NBAers on their own.

The two countries might meet again in the finals. I wouldn’t write the Australians off.

5. Macy’s announced this morning that it will close 100 of its 675 full-line stores early next year. It also said it’s looking into doing something with four big downtown flagship store.

There was no specificity about which stores are involved, with the people who work in these stores getting the cold comfort that they’ll know before everyone else does.

I would think the safest Macy’s location would be the one in New York’s Herald Square. It’s what gives the company its identity – the focal point of the Thanksgiving Day parade and the plot of “Miracle on 34th Street.”

But when was the last time you wanted to buy something and thought, “Hey, I’ll go to Macy’s for that?”

The experience of shopping in a full-line department store in 2016 doesn’t, with precious few exceptions, engender warm feelings. The merchandise isn’t better than that of a chain store elsewhere in a mall. And if you think you know what you want, and are dealing with insomnia, you can order online at 2:27 a.m. and ship the stuff back if it’s not just right.

And these stores are getting squeezed at both ends of the human timeline.

On the one hand, do young people ever talk about going to Macy’s to shop when there’s something trendier and friendlier elsewhere in the mall?

On the other hand, older people begin to ask how much of their remaining life do they want to waste waiting for an overmatched sales person to either show up at the register or figure out how the byzantine formula for this week’s discounts work.

There’s one other problem as I see it.

Department stores used to be special places. Almost magical.

One that comes to mind is Marshall Field’s at the dead center of Chicago, State and Washington. The famous clock at the corner. One of the coolest parts was the working candy factory that produced the store’s signature Frango mints. The store was, like Macy’s in Herald Square, a symbol of the city it served.

Alas, Macy’s took over Marshall Field’s in the mid-2000s and made the dumb decision to rename all of the Field’s stores, including the iconic flagship, Macy’s. It reeked of big-footing from New York – or Cincinnati, both of which are headquarters for the company’s corporate parent.

Doing that in Chicago, in Washington and in other cities took away the special sensation of going to the Big Store in Town. If there’s nothing particularly special inside the store, and nothing particularly special about the store, why should anyone go to the store?

Maybe Macy’s will figure it out. Maybe closing these 100 stores and repurposing those unspecified four locations will make shopping there an experience again.

I wouldn’t count on it. Retailers, and not just Macy’s, need to start using their imaginations to figure out how to make themselves relevant in a digital world. Just closing stores won’t cut it.

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